As shown in System Buyers Guide: PCs for Under $800 you can now build a decent entry level PC for around $500 - including a true 1080p LCD monitor and the Vista Home Premium OS. If you already have a monitor and OS, or use one of the free operating systems like Ubuntu or another Linux variant, you can get your desktop system cost down to a bit over $300. We don't recall a time when so much power was available in the computer industry for so little money. Of course that $500 machine, while surprisingly capable for basic computer tasks, is certainly not the paragon for gaming, graphics, or raw computing power.

As you move up the price scale you gain in all of those parameters. We started to beef up those areas with systems costing closer to $800 in the last Entry System Buyers Guide. The next ladder rung is broadly defined as the midrange. Most of our readers are looking to buy in the midrange, which generally provides the most performance for the dollar, and computing solutions with some staying power in the market. We were ready to post our midrange recommendations early last week, but with significant new video card introductions scheduled for late last week the guide was delayed a few days. This made it possible to include the latest video offerings in our performance midrange systems.

The slow worldwide economy and fierce competition has had their impact on even the definition of midrange. Today we define our midrange guide as starting as low as $800 and extending up to around $1800, which gives a lot of flexibility in terms of choosing components. With generally declining prices and increasing value, the midrange also covers a wider area than in the past - just as we saw in the under $800 Entry segment.

New architectures have been introduced in the past few months, so the definition of high, mid, and entry have been shifting as the Intel Core i7 and Phenom II settle into our computing space. Several Core i7 X58 boards are now selling for around $200 or less, which allows a decent Core i7 build with the cheapest Core i7 CPU at around $1800. That represents the very top of the midrange price spectrum, and some would argue we should limit Core i7 to the high-end and limit midrange to perhaps a $1600 cap. That argument has merits; however, it is hard to ignore the Core i7 920 with a cost of less than $300 for an upper midrange recommendation. Similarly, Phenom II processors are priced from $125 to $225. Since Phenom II, built on 45nm, is faster and much more overclockable than other recent AMD processors, we how consider the Phenom II the CPU of choice for any midrange AMD system. Anything less is an entry AMD PC.

For today's midrange guide, we will put together two Intel systems and two AMD systems. The first value pair are targeted at a base system price of around $800, with a complete system price of around $1150. This means our complete system recommendations in the midrange are now some $350 less than the value systems detailed in our last midrange guide published just 3 months ago. These $1150 systems represent the best-bang-for-the buck in the midrange. The speed at which even the best value component prices are dropping is remarkable right now. Price drops are a given in the computer industry, but there are the first signs that "bad economy" reductions may be slowing or stopping, as a few of the component prices actually increased since the last guide.

The second pair of systems target midrange performance. At about $500 to $650 more than value midrange, these $1650 to $1800 complete systems invest that extra cost in performance improvements and upgraded peripherals. The midrange performance segment is built around a powerful Intel Core i7 CPU or the fastest Phenom II you can currently buy. Both are very high performance for the money - and high performance by almost any other measure.

Without the 26" monitors and OS, the performance midrange systems would cost around $1100 to $1250. This price spread is a result of the firm pricing for the Intel Core i7 and the release of greater value components in the last three months for Phenom II. It is not the result of DDR2 versus DDR3 as memory prices for 2 and 3 are getting closer. In fact, DDR3 memory prices have dropped significantly across the board since our last midrange guide.

These new midrange system recommendations also include the most recent introductions in the GPU or video card market. For performance midrange you will find AMD 4890 video cards. We would also include the NVIDIA GTX 275 as an equal recommendation, but you cannot yet buy a GTX 275. In the coming weeks, once those parts begin to show up, those who prefer NVIDIA over AMD can make such substitutions. For more details on our video card recommendations, you should take a closer look at our Video Card Buyer's Guide - Spring 2009 and the follow-up HD 4890/GTX 275 review.

Intel Value Midrange
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  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, April 9, 2009 - link

    Our Motherboard Editor, Gary Key, tested DDR2-1066 memory in the recommended Biostar board. It worked fine at DDR2-1066 speed, and of course faster memory will work fine at slower speeds and faster timings than rated if that is needed. That was not necessary though, as DDR2-1066 worked fine at rated speed.

    I suspect the Biostar spec was written BEFORE the AM3 chips were introduced, and should more properly read AM2+ or LATER required for DDR2-1066 support.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, April 9, 2009 - link

    AM3 CPUs will work in AM2+ motherboards, but AM2+ CPUs can't work in AM3 motherboards. The AM3 CPUs have both DDR2 and DDR3 controllers, which is why they're backwards compatible.
  • MagicPants - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    You shouldn't include rebates in the price of a system unless you've actually bought that system and received the rebate. They are such a crapshoot it's a little dishonest to use them in an article.
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, April 9, 2009 - link

    I've probably filed for close to 100 rebates on computer equipment, and only failed to receive 1. That was from MSI on a video card, they required the Newegg Invoice that is emailed to you instead of the order confirmation that everyone else accepts. It once took a year and a couple resubmissions to get a Seagate rebate, but I did get it.
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    Right now it is hard to NOT use rebates in pricing, since they are everywhere in component pricing. We hate rebates also, and much prefer a reduced price. We have listed the current rebate amount in the description to disclose as much info as possible. That seems a fair way to do it.

    Rebates are NOT dishonest and they are certainly legal, but it is frustrating for most to pay more up front and then have to wait months for their price reduction checks. Personally I have received every rebate I ever claimed, but it sometimes took way too much time to get the check.
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    NOT paying rebates for valid claims IS illegal. If that happens to you contact the company and ask why you haven't received the rebate. You should also keep copies of everything you send them in case you have to resubmit. It that doesn't work file a complaint with your State Attorney General's office.

    If all this is too much for you as a buyer shop for components with up-front price reductions. NEVER buy an item for the good Rebate price if you find mailing rebates is too much trouble. Manufacturers normally DO pay rebates, but they count on a lot of people never sending in the paperwork. Those that send in rebates are subsidized by buyers that don't.
  • v12v12 - Wednesday, April 22, 2009 - link

    Agreed it's consumer FRAUD... the problem with these rebates and the like is that the law regarding them and internet related based deals is, the complete lack of law-enforcement. They are so behind the times regarding cyber "crime," that the actual pursuit of your money, cost MORE than you'd receive. I've got a rebate from Spectre 22" monitor that I filed 3yrs ago that never came. I complained blah blah... nothing. Pursuing was fruitless, for $35. To me it wasn't, but to the Inspect gen etc... they aren't going to do a thing for anything less than near class-action.
  • BPB - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    Did you pick the Xigmatek Dark Knight because of its price? If so, what would you have chosen for somebody willing to spend more? I'm hoping you say spending more isn't necessary with the 940.
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    The Xigmatek cooler tested very well in lab systems and is one of the better coolers you can buy. The fact it is also reasonably priced is just a nice plus. I personally use a Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme with a Scythe S-Flex fan, but I find the Xigmatek nearly as effective and I have no probelm recommending it.
  • BPB - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    Thanks. I have the Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme in my Intel case, and am looking to get a nice cooler for my AMD CPU. Now I have to decide, I'm leaning toward the Xigmatek.

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